Where Do You Grieve When There is No Grave?
For most people, a grave is not just a convenient and legal place to lay a body to rest. It is also a place to mourn, a place to grieve, a place to go when you want to feel connected to the family member or friend you have lost. There are scientific studies that support the importance of having a physical space to mourn, as well as hundreds of thousands of anecdotal stories about how cemeteries help people cope with loss and grief.
But what happens when there is no grave for you to visit? In this day and age, there are countless reasons why the traditional grave and headstone might not be an option for your family. These include:
- A body that was never found
- A death overseas or in an international location
- Cremation and ash scattering ceremonies in place of burial
- Gravesites that have been moved or destroyed over time
- Lack of money to pay for a traditional burial
- Family preference/choice of the deceased
- A grave that is located in another state
- Family conflicts
If you find yourself faced with any of these situations, you might wonder how to find the kind of peace and closure that comes with traditional mourning. Although you cannot exactly recreate a loved one’s grave, you can make a memorial space that allows you to process your feelings in a healthy way.
Ways to Mourn without a Grave
Visit a childhood home/important location. A journey to a specific location to grieve can be replicated by visiting a special place that reminds you of the deceased. It can be anything—a childhood home, a park where you spent time together, the location of a cherished memory, the place of death, or even a country or monument the deceased always wished to visit but did not get a chance to. By making the trip and focusing your attention on a specific place, you can mimic the act of visiting a grave without an actual grave.
Erect a formal memorial. If there are funds available, you can put up a memorial for the deceased in a location that is not a cemetery. Common ones include commemorative park benches, statues in public locations, or even just garden stones in your own backyard. A small plaque is often all it takes to create a space that is not only available to you, but to others who share your grief.
Build a cache/shrine. There is no reason why you cannot create a memorial space for yourself, and those you are close to. Gather items of sentimental importance—such as personal mementos, photographs, and articles of clothing—and place them in a box or other container. This can be located inside your home or even buried in a special place and marked with a rock or plaque. This provides you a place to go to grieve and helps you feel connected to your loved one.
Pay homage to the ashes. If there is no grave because the deceased was cremated rather than buried, there are multiple options available to you. Ashes can be buried in a grave plot, put in a mausoleum niche, or even turned into items like jewelry, glass orbs, records, or stuffed animals. You can also put part (or all) of the ashes in an urn that you keep in your home. These physical reminders can serve as a mourning place as much as a grave does.